Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Basil Buttercream

Earlier this summer I was at my favorite chocolate factory perusing their delightful offerings and trying not to drool.

They had a smaller specialty bar that I hadn't seen before, the Basilico Pignoli.  A chocolate bar with basil pesto in it.  I was intrigued by this savory and sweet combination.  I purchased it and was pleasantly surprised at how well those flavors went together.  This cupcake was inspired by that chocolate bar.  Incidentally, that bar ended up being the chocolate sprinkles on top of the cupcakes.  A nice symmetry, no?  :-)

I should say, also, that I made this for a friend's birthday.  She happens to love basil pesto, so she seemed like the perfect recipient for these.  And, as I suspected, she loved these as well.

For the recipe, I combined a few different recipes to get the best balance of flavors.  I already had a fantastic dark chocolate cupcake recipe that I have paired with a tasty peanut butter frosting.  (Actually, I made those last year for this same friend!)  And then I found the perfect frosting from the awesome experimental Cupcake Project blog.

She infused the basil flavor into the frosting by first making a "basil sugar."  Then whipping it up in a normal buttercream.  The balance was perfect, and I was delighted that it worked so well.

Overall, it's a unique flavor combo that is divine.  I WILL be making these again.  And again.  And again...

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
(Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
Makes 12 cupcakes

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup (1.5 ounces) cocoa powder
¾ cup (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon table salt
½ cup (4 ounces) sour cream

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. (If you are using a non-stick muffin pan, heat the oven to 325 degrees F.) Line standard-size muffin pan with baking cup liners.

Combine butter, chocolate, and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and combined. (Alternately, you can microwave the mixture at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted.) Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.

Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla, and salt until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogeneous and thick.

Divide the batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.  Do not overbake, or they will be dry.

Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10-15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.

Basil Sugar
(from Cupcake Project)

1 large handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup sugar (granulated or powdered sugar, depending on what you're going to use it for)

Rinse basil leaves and gently pat dry with a towel.
Pulse basil leaves in a food processor until they are as small as you can get them. Don't worry if there are still some big pieces since you'll process them further in a bit. You should end up with about one packed tablespoon of chopped up basil. Add more basil or remove some if you are too far off.
Place processed basil and sugar in a small bowl and use a spoon to mix well, pressing the basil into the sugar.
Place the basil sugar in the food processor and pulse to fully combine.
If not using within three days, store in the freezer until ready to use.
If basil sugar starts to get clumpy, pulse again in a food processor just before using.

Basil Buttercream
(from Cupcake Project)
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes (not piled high)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup basil powdered sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on high speed.
Mix in basil powdered sugar a little bit at a time.
Mix in powdered sugar a little bit at a time.
Mix in salt.
Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.


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